In the LA Times, Megan Daum has an interesting reflection on the late comedy director John Hughes, and his eccentric cinematic representations of adolescence:
If the brooding, solitary Andie played by Ringwald in “Pretty in Pink” were in high school in 2009, it’s hard to imagine she wouldn’t be a candidate for anti-depression therapy. Likewise, if “The Breakfast Club,” which is about five teens serving time in Saturday detention, took place in a post-Prozac, post-Columbine America, Ally Sheedy’s mostly mute, kleptomaniac misfit would have undoubtedly been medicated, and Anthony Michael Hall’s character would have received a lot more than detention for bringing a flare gun to school. As for Ferris Bueller, the kid obviously needed Ritalin.
I’m not suggesting that any of us were better off when legitimate disorders went unrecognized and untreated. But in a culture in which diagnoses sometimes seem to get handed out like conservation-awareness fliers in front of the supermarket, it’s worth asking ourselves if old-fashioned eccentricity — of the teen or adult variety — can too easily be supplanted by the ease of assigning a code from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Hughes, who left the movie business in the early 1990s because he feared the impact Hollywood would have on his children, should be remembered not just for the way he appreciated weirdness but for the way he normalized it — not with pills but with paisley.
Vaughan, over at MindHacks, add his own commentary:
The monologue that bookmarks The Breakfast Club, with the line “You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions”, succinctly captures how society’s view of youth changes and yet always stays the same.
For the current younger generation, the simplest terms are mostly taken from psychiatry. This will eventually change and our recurrent anxieties about the young will largely be expressed in the next most convenient definition.
One larger problem with relying on vague psychiatric diagnoses, such as “difficulty paying attention,” is that they’re subject to the classic slippery slope. Imagine a classroom with five disorderly kids, who are then given a drug for ADD. Let’s also imagine that this drug is extremely effective, and transforms the unruly students into well-behaved pupils. (In real life, of course, Ritalin is no miracle cure.) This raises the obvious problem: what about the next five most disorderly kids? Do they now have difficulties regulating attention? Compared to whom? Define unruly.
The danger isn’t just that we’ve medicalized Ferris Bueller. It’s that we’ve turned a large percentage of children into psychiatric patients without a clear understanding of where to draw the line. (And I think this will become an even bigger problem once we develop effective interventions, which can shift the bell curve of behavior and make Ritalin look like a crude sledgehammer.) But then this is a recurring problem with the brain, which rarely obeys our neat schematics and categories. Human behavior is a smear, a spectrum; it rarely gives us simple answers to yes or no questions. This is what great art, and even mediocre Hollywood comedies, can remind us.